The Come Up: P-Lo Is No Longer Playing the Background
The Bay area always seems to produce new talent. SOB x RBE are the newest sensations to catch hip-hop's eye while other such as Nef The Pharaoh, 2017 XXL Freshman Kamaiyah, Caleborate, Ezale, Larry June, G-Eazy and Philthy Rich, among others, have all found success, both big and small. P-Lo is another name to add to the list of rising West Coast rappers and a reason why The Bay is a respected hub of hip-hop creativity.
The co-founder of HBK—a music crew made up of rappers, producers and creatives all throughout The Bay—started making music in high school when he met fellow HBK-co-founder Iamsu!. Initially only making beats, P-Lo, a 24-year-old Filipino-American, started to get into rapping as a way to branch out from being solely a producer. After seeing ’Su's success, P-Lo stopped playing college basketball and focused on making music, dropping his debut project, More Bitches, More Gold Chains, in 2012.
From there, he would see gradual success with each release from More Bitches, More Gold Chains 2 to Gang Forever with HBK to Moovie! with fellow HBK member Kool John and Before Anything EP.
However, More Than Anything, which dropped in May, is P-Lo's most complete body of work to date. The 15-track project features slappers for the club and records that make you want to get up and do something productive.
During a call with XXL, P-Lo discusses why the hip-hop scene in The Bay is so unique, creating HBK with Iamsu!, what it was like making More Than Anything and if culture vultures will dilute what's going on in his city.
XXL: The Bay has always felt so bright and unique. What is it like growing up there? Why is it so different from everywhere else?
P-Lo: I just think we just live in the most progressive place on the planet, in my opinion. We have Apple out here and the tech industry. We’re just always forward-thinking and even just the whole independent rap game, even how everyone wants to be independent. E-40 and Too $hort, they were doing that like 20, 25 years ago, you know what I’m saying? I just feel like we’re just always progressive thinkers, being where I’m from.
What makes up the Bay sound?
There’s a lot, there’s a few influences I think from The Bay…I think it’s definitely made from like funk for sure. But it’s really layers of Bay music that don’t derive from that but definitely I feel like what people know the Bay for is like funk, turnt, hype shit and just this real high-energy music.
Growing up, who did you grow up with? What’s your family like?
So I’m Filipino so I grew up kind a little different because, well, it wasn’t different, it was actually pretty cool. You’d be like, in The Bay, everyone is so many different, different walks of life, so many people. People have to co-exist. It’s such a big melting point, like New York is. Everybody has to get along and even me being Filipino, even when I went to the hood it was all just like, everybody got along, you know what I’m saying?
When did you get into music? When did you discover, hey, music is what I’m good at?
Probably at high school. I had met Iamsu! and me and [him] went to high school together. So me and him kind of started making music together in high school but I was only producing at the time. I was only making beats but I wanted to ultimately branch out and become what I am now. So I just tried to hone in my skills and get everything that I wanted correctly. But when I really started taking music seriously was probably when I got out of high school I was like, OK, I should probably really do this shit.
Before you met Iamsu!, when did you start producing?
I started producing maybe when I was just getting out of middle school. I was just in the eighth grade and my brother had brought home this beat-making program because he was in this thing called Youth Radio and it was like a media program for high school kids where they can learn how to do radio and production and just other media outlets training stuff. So he ended up bringing the beat program home and one day I just picked it up and started fucking with it.
What high school did you and Iamsu! attend?
It’s in the Pinole Valley, the legendary Pinole Valley. Also Greendale was also in the Pinole Valley. Real fact.
How long ago did HBK actually form? Was it just like something you had thought of? Did it take months or was it instantly and how did you bring others into it?
It was crazy because, it was like one day... ’Su was like three years older than me so it was like my senior year and I didn’t have off campus lunch, so I would have to cut school to go grab some food. And one day ’Su picks me up and I cut school and it's me, him and my friend Omar and we’re just like in the car at Burger King and I don’t know where it came from but it just came, you know? I was like, "Hey, we should be HBK," and it was just out of nowhere because in the weeks before we were just trying to figure out some stuff, like a quick name, a group name, but literally it just came to me like lightning or something.
But we were doing that but it didn’t really solidify and get to where we wanted it until like Iamsu! had dropped "Up," which was like a huge song. After "Up," there was another song called "Swaggin" and then after all of that, HBK really started to form. And then it became the collective from the Bay Area, like we ended up adding Sage and Kehlani stuff later on.
In your mind, what did you think HBK's purpose was?
Our goal personally was to show what the Bay Area is about. If you were to have seen HBK in so many different walks of life and so many different people, if you look at it, it’s like there’s a Filipino guy, and we have so many videographers that are part of HBK and they come from different walks of life. They’re Latino and Asian-American and there are White guys and just so many people from different walks of life, it’s so diverse. I think that’s truly the definition of the Bay Area, which is one of the most diverse areas in the world.
What do you think the world was missing about the Bay Area? Why do you think the world needs the Bay Area?
I just think, I guess, some parts of the world are so separated and segregated and these people don’t hang out with these people and these people ain't kicking with these people and I think we’re able to represent the future of the world, where everyone co-exists and people are able to create great things together, from all walks of life, no matter where you came from and what you look like or whoever you are and I think that’s what we want to represent.
When you graduated high school, why did you start taking things seriously with music?
Stuff just started to move fast, like I was going to school too and I ended up doing college basketball also. So when I was doing that, ’Su was like on his rise while I was still in school and I was playing basketball too and so I was seeing ’Su rise up and I was like, "Oh, yea, fa sho. This is it, we’ve got to go now." So I was seeing that and that gave me the full motivation to fully go at [music].
Where did you play ball at and what position?
I played ball at Contra Costa College in Richmond, Calif. I’ve played point guard because I’m not really that tall, I’m like 5 foot, 8 inches.
When did you drop ball and focus on music?
It was one year…I had produced this song for Wiz Khalifa’s album, and then after I did that, I was working at the time too, I was working at this after school program and I had been working there for like a week. Then one day I had to fly to L.A. You know when you first get your job, you’re not supposed to be like, "Hey, I can’t come in," but when your friend gets you a job, you’re not supposed to take days off, but I had to leave, I had to go to L.A. So once I quit my job, and made the decision. "I was like alright I’ll fully go in." I had to fly to L.A. to go work with the Wiz again and I was like, "Alright, fuck it, this is the rest of my life."
More Than Anything makes you feel good. What’s the meaning of the title and why do you think the album resonates so nicely?
More Than Anything, it’s a real showcase of all the layers of me as an artist and different experiences and different spectrums of P-Lo. Of course you’re going to get some turnt Bay Area stuff on there and then you also get some introspective stuff on there and then you’ll get some stuff on me and relationships and just different layers. More Than Anything, I wanted to show the different layers of P-Lo and what I can bring. And there were some other meanings or More Than Anything. I want people to believe in themselves, just how I believe in myself and I feel like I wanted to put that through music and make sure people felt that.
Working with E-40 had to be a special moment for you, right?
It’s always a blessing. E-40…he’s been here for three decades and he was able to stay relevant and that’s something that I would want to do for myself. Just for him to acknowledge my work and acknowledge what I’m doing is like a dream come true. When I was a little kid I used to slap E-40’s CDs. So for him to just acknowledge what I’m doing is almost surreal.
From the outside looking in, the Bay is producing so many good, young acts right now.
I just think that without the internet, the Bay was kind of enclosed. It was enclosed to only us and that’s why we took so much pride in being from the Bay and really loving our culture. But now everyone is able to see and absorb it and actually see what it is. I feel like now people are really trying to understand what the Bay Area is and what the Bay is about and what we bring and the uniqueness that we bring every time we do something. We were our own little island but now people are coming here and figuring out why this place is so amazing.
Do you fear like the music scene in the Bay Area can be diluted and stolen? Just with such the influx of transplants in the area and the internet being so big now.
[People] have always been copying us. We’ve been influencers for many years. It’s like I was saying how everyone wanting to be independent now and Too $hort and E-40 25 years ago. They were doing everything themselves and now everybody wants to do things themselves and get their own money. So I feel like we’ve always just been ahead and I feel like that’s just being progressive. They’re always going to have to come through the fountain this is where the fountain is. Whatever they’re doing they’re just drinking downstream and I’m drinking from the fountain.
Nice. Oh, one of the big things that caught stood out about More Than Anything was the cover art. It’s fantastic. How did you think of that? The color schemes and everything.
Oh, man. It was actually really crazy. So we were like, a good portion of the music was mixed and mastered and we were getting close to turning everything in. We had shot some things for the cover but I was like, "Man this is isn’t really…I like the stuff that we got but I don’t know if it’s it.” So I met up with a good friend of mine and he’s a crazy photographer, his taste, his eye is just unique. His name is Mancy [Grant] and he shot Kamaiyah’s cover. You know me and him go way back so one day me and him just met up and its crazy I didn’t really have to say anything to him, he literally just drew out the [More Than Anything] cover.
Before I even gave him an idea or gave him what we wanted, he literally just drew that exact thing out and then for that to manifest to what it was is crazy. We were literally on the same page before we even said anything and that was a crazy experience and so I feel like it was super meant to be.
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